Two Minutes Versus Sixteen Hours

My client, Jen, has been working hard the past few months to get her eating under control and count calories every day. Counting calories is not necessary for everyone to lose weight, but it is necessary for Jen. Without that accountability and insight into how much she’s eating each day, she isn’t able to create enough of a calorie deficit to lose weight. While she’s gotten much better at counting calories consistently (which is a huge step in the right direction), Jen has been struggling over the past week to keep her calories at a level that will enable weight loss. It seems like almost every day there’s some eating event or opportunity that sabotages her, and she ends up going over her calories for the day.

I asked Jen to describe one such experience in detail, and she explained how she was at a breakfast meeting earlier in the week and ate an unplanned cinnamon bun. While, much to her credit, Jen did go into the meeting with a plan, she ultimately didn’t end up sticking to it. I asked Jen what thoughts were going through her mind right before she ate the unplanned cinnamon bun. She responded that it was something like, “This looks so good. I just want to eat it. I’ll be okay because I’ll eat less later to make up for it.”

Jen and I first addressed her sabotaging thought, “I’ll eat less later to make up for it.” We discussed the fact that we could think of literally dozens of times cinnamon bun on platewhen she had that thought and wasn’t able to eat less later in the day. While there were one or two times it did turn out okay, calorie-wise, most of the evidence showed that “making up for it later” simply doesn’t work. I also reminded Jen that even if she was indeed able to eat fewer calories later that day, she was still exercising her giving-in muscle in that moment. By eating that unplanned cinnamon bun, she was reinforcing the habit of not sticking to her plan, which means that the next time she was tempted to not stick to her plan, it would be that much harder to overcome the temptation. So even if she didn’t end up taking in too many calories, she was still doing psychological damage by reinforcing the habit of not sticking to her plan.

We then discussed the first part of her sabotaging thought, which is one that she has frequently: “This looks so good. I just want to eat it.” I asked Jen how long the good tastes or feelings from eating that cinnamon bun lasted. “I don’t know. A minute or two, max,” she responded. I then asked Jen how many minutes it felt good to feel in control, to know she was making good choices, to see the scale go down, to fit into her clothes, to like what she sees when she looks in the mirror, to feel confident, etc.  Jen responded, “Probably every minute that I’m awake!” When she looked at it this way, Jen realized that by giving in to that sabotaging thought, she was sacrificing around 16 hours of feeling good for a maximum of two minutes of enjoying a taste. That was not a trade she wanted to make!

2 replies
  1. Caroline Wick
    Caroline Wick says:

    That’s a great way of putting it! I have recently dug out my Beck diet books in order to rein in my eating. I have been reading my response cards a few times each day and it’s really helping me stay on track. I might make this example into a response card. Thanks for all your tips. They are great. I love CBT.


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